Guest Post: The Essential Bar

+ I’m starting a monthly series of guest posts for the blog! I’m asking some of the super talented people I know to share the essentials of something that really matters to them. Greg volunteered for the first spot and when I asked him about his topic of choice, he jumped in with “cocktails!” I hope you enjoy and let me know if you have any post ideas!

Jamie and I like to keep a home bar. We want using our bar to be a pleasing experience, suitable for relaxing after a hard day’s work, or entertaining some friends—not an exercise in archaeology.

Our bar used to sometimes feel unwieldy—at once littered with bottles of booze but somehow devoid of viable options for making a good drink. It consisted of random bottles left over from our last party, something weird we used once in a special cocktail, and some fancy bitters I picked up after seeing them used at a bar. We realized it came to be this way because we weren’t being intentional about supplying it. The solution was to stick to the essentials!


1. Know what you like. The first step is to think about your preferences. Do you like drinking any liquors straight? Do you like simple mixed drinks (gin and tonic, martini) or more elaborate creations? Spirit-heavy drinks, creamy drinks, citrusy drinks? Narrowing down your preferences can help you distinguish between types of drinks you might want to have only occasionally versus those you want to stock ingredients for. This distinction is important if you’re going to keep your bar manageable!

A helpful exercise is to ask, if you could only have 3 drinks for the next year of your life, what would they be? Consider stocking just what you need for those. Mine would be a single-malt Scotch (but don’t ask me to pick just one distillery), a Mezcarita, and a Bourbon Manhattan. Jamie’s would probably be even more minimal.

2. Buy reusable ingredients. Liquor mostly has an infinite shelf-life, so unless you actually drink it or give it away, you’ll have it forever. When buying anything, stick with bottles that you’ll either use over and over in a favorite drink, or that will contribute to many different drinks you like.

For me, bottles of Cointreau and Angostura Bitters make the cut—they’re found in my favorite drinks, and also many others I like. By contrast, while I love Kahlúa or Green Chartreuse, they don’t have a place in my favorites and wouldn’t be reusable enough.

3. Rotate in variety—with limits. Just because you stick to your favorites doesn’t mean there isn’t room for play! Just be conscious of how many you have at a time.

One month we received some Orgeat and focused on making Mai Tais for a while, until we exhausted it. Then we had space to bring in new ingredients!

4. Be adventurous elsewhere. If you crave variety and like to try new things all the time, consider getting that fix at a local bar instead of at home. I love tasting new whiskies, but now I rarely buy bottles—I’ve just found places I can go get a single pour of something new and interesting whenever I feel adventurous. Ditto for cocktails—San Francisco has a fantastic bartending scene, and I’d be silly to mix them myself all the time and not sample the creations of our local artisans. This seems more expensive, but can actually save money since it’s less wasteful and doesn’t result in lots of half-drunk bottles of things you’re never in the mood for.

5. Hospitality can be simple. Another reason people stock a big variety of things is because they throw parties and want to be hospitable, providing their guests with choices. But it can be overwhelming to set up a bar for a party.

With a little planning, things can be simpler and more guest-friendly. And if anyone claims that you need seven different types of liquor and a bunch of mixers... we’ve had house parties for 50 people where we prepared and served only one cocktail plus wine and beer, and everyone found something to like.

+ One idea to use up those half-empty bottles is to host a leftovers party, where everyone brings random bottles of stuff and then you all make cocktails with them, or exchange with one another.

+ Alternatively, just take stock of what ingredients you want to “use up”, and make some drinks that include them. This is a great opportunity to learn and try something new! Just make sure you don’t have to buy a second, non-reusable bottle of something to go with what you’re trying to get rid of. :)

Bourbon (Eagle Rare or Black Maple Hill)
Mezcal (Del Maguey Vida or Xicaru Silver)
Scotch (Oban 14, Highland Park 12, Yamazaki 12, or Lagavulin 16, .. so many to choose from)
Angostura bitters
Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
Maraschino cherries (Luxardo)

Is your bar full of staples... or snowflakes? What are your three go-to drinks, and could you commit to stocking just their ingredients?